Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tamil Women in Tamil society, Early 1900s - Part 1

The role of women in the Tamil renaissance, Tani Thamizh Iyakkam, Freedom Movement, Dravidian Movement during late 1800s and early 1900s has always been suppressed. Their role has not been given equal importance. Many of the women who participated in these movements had overlapping interests and hence their ideas, writings promoted more than one and sometimes more than two movements at the same time. The intention of this article is to try and introduce a few women and their contribution to the general public.

This is basically a short introduction to the many women and their contribution during pre-independence in the Tamil society. The article was not edited and hence there could be a few mistakes in the formulation of sentences. The whole article has been divided into three parts. The first part is an introduction to the main women participants in the Tani Thamizh Iyakkam, Anti hindi agitations, 1937/38, Dravidian Movement. The second part is a continuation of the first part extending the introduction to a few other women and a brief introduction to their contribution. The third part talks about the works of Neelambikai Ammaiyar whose works survived the suppression of the patriarchal society. For non-Tamils, the word “Ammaiyar” used as a part of the name is more like a respectable way of referring to a woman.

On 14 November, 1938, a motley crowd of housewives, intellectuals, authors and professionals gathered before the Theosophical High School and raised slogans like “Down with English”, “Down with Hindi” along with “Thamizh Vaazhga”. Five women were jailed. Among them were Moovalur Ramamirtham, Malarmugathammai, Pattammal, Dharmambal, Neelambikai Ammaiyar. Many more women courted arrest in 1939 during rallies against English and Hindi.

Tani Thamizh Iyakkam provided women with an avenue to oppose the patriarchal society and also to empower themselves. Women’s participation in the Tani Thamizh Iyakkam and Dravidian movement has its base in various national, ethnic, linguistic and gender concerns and hence there was a variety of stance exhibited by different women and quite a few of them supported more than one specific movement.

Achalambikkai Ammaiyar and Kumudini were opposed to western education and hindi and believed that education should gear the woman to be a better wife, mother, care taker of the family. They were supporters of a patriarchal society. Moovalur Ramamirtham was someone who was against the patriarchal order which made her a “Devadasi”. She like many others came from “Isai Vellalar” caste in which women took up the “Devadasi” profession and men traditionally took up profession as musicians, specifically playing the “Nadaswaram”.

The women from the “Isai Vellalar” caste were not subjected to the same patriarchal rules of child marriage, widowhood; they were more open to ideas of equality acquired through western education which was also denied to the women in the traditional Tamil society. Since most women from this caste were made to take up the devadasi profession, most women who came from this caste openly opposed the devadasi system and were ardent supporters of the Devadasi abolition bill. The Tamil word for prostitute "Thevidiya" comes from "Thevar-adiyaal" which is an exact translation of "Deva-Dasi"

Neelambikai Ammaiyar is the torch bearer for the women’s contribution since her writings have survived the suppression of the patriarchal society. She was conferred the title of “Tani Thamizh Tiruvatti” (Champion of Pure Tamil Movement) in the 1940s. She passed away in 1945. Dr. Dharmambal carried on popularizing the importance of Tamil among women folk and was conferred the title of “Veera Thamizh Annai”(Valiant Thamizh Mother) in 1951.

The title of “Periyar” was conferred on E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker on 13 November, 1938 by Neelambikai Ammaiyar during the Tamil Women’s Conference. Other prominent women present during the conference were Dr. Dharmambal, Moovalu Ramamirtham, K.V. Kamatchi, K.E. Veera Kalyani, Lakshmi Ammal, Paripoornathammal Nagammai (Periyar’s wife), S.R. Kannamma (Periyar’s sister).

Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar participated in the anti hindi agitations in 1938 and later joined the “Suya Mariyadhai Iyakkam” (Self-Respect Movement) but withdrew from it after Periyar refused to give primary importance to the Devadasi bill which would prohibit the Devadasi system. This along with Periyar’s marriage to Maniammai who was around forty years younger to him made many other women like Thamaraikanniyar to move away from Periyar.

Most of the works of these women were destroyed by their close relatives since they believed that such outright violations of established social order would bring bad name to the family. Thus, we are not left with much evidence of works of such women who left their mark by mobilizing the women folk in these movements.


Anonymous said...


The central govt in Delhi has plans to wantonly ignore other languages and pave the way for their decline by sole use of Hindi and by the portrial of India to the outside world as Hindia.

Except for some sentiments raised by Tamils, other language speakers are simply taking it for granted to accept Hindi as their officated mother tongue.

Some examples of Hindian propoganda by both the Hindian central government and large MNCs:
1>Gas books across India printed only in Hindi and English
2>Air Hindia, Hindian Airlines, S(J)et(h) Airway etc having announcements only in English and Hindi.
3>Hindi being compulsory in CBSE schools while Hindian can choose to skip the state language in favour of Sanskrit
4>Lack of opportunity of native Tamils in the north leave alone North Indians to learn Tamil and other southern languages in their areas
5>Tamil being portrayed with lude ‘comical’ roles in Hindian films
6>Hindian railways train tickets skipping the state language
7>Airports (like in Madras) hiring Hindians who cant speak Tamil/state language
8>Hindian Railway and other Hindian institution websites restricted to only Hindi and English
9>Hindian movies only being sent to the Oscars and other cultural events ignoring other languages
10>Hindian bank passbooks skipping the state language
11>ATMs of most banks (Citibank, Hindian Bank etc restricting to Hindi and English)
12>Looking down on states of Tamil Nadu because of refusal to prescribe to “accept-Hindi-as-your-language” attitude
13. The very use of the term “Regional language” to non-Hindi languages
14. The use of Hindian stickers in trains and else portaying “speaking Hindi is nationalism” and other propoganda messages stating use of English or non-Hindi as not being nationalistic.
15. The very absence of languages other than Hindi on the symbol of citizenship of the country– the passport

The above is a part of a sinister policy create to transform India to simply Hindia or Hindistan.
These remarks are taken as fascist…but you need to ask yourself whether the National Language policy of India itself isnt fascist.
If you trace the history since independence regarding the use of language apart from Hindi, you can foretell the future plan for this fascist policy.

This Hindian fascism should not make it a big mistake for India to be a lingual union. The last thing for the country is encouragement a colonial attitude by speakers of the “elevated” lingo.

DMK, PMK and other Tamil traitors are happy with this scenario as they are in business with their Hindian masters who safeguarding the TN reservation policy, where several Hindi OBCs get reservation in TN while Tamil FCs are thrown out. Their vote bank has been assured by their Hindian masters.

Nilaa-Leo said...

Hi OM,

Nice to know about the unknown /unheard Tamil women writers. Actually I am planning to talk about the Tamil women writers in our next Tamil ilakkiya vattam in HongKong.While browsing the web I found your blog.If possible write more under the same topic and visit my blog too..